Let There be Light Rail

Proposed Connector Route

Courtesy of Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector via New York Daily News.

Kudos to Mayor Bill de Blasio for proposing the Brooklyn Queens Connector, a light rail that will improve transportation along 16 miles of the East River waterfront. It’s a New York City-only undertaking (without the complications of state, federal or Metropolitan Transportation Authority involvement). Tax revenues from increased property values are expected to cover its $2.5 billion cost. Contrast that with the $4.5 billion, two-mile Phase 1 of the Second Avenue Subway, which will go from 96th Street to 63rd Street and Lexington Avenue. This required boring through rock, mining out tunnels and designing and building station stations with elevators and escalators. Brooklyn Queens Connector rails will be embedded in existing streets. Groundbreaking is tentatively scheduled for 2019-2020. If the Second Avenue Subway (a plan conceived in the 1920s) is extended north and south, one hopes future phases will be light rail and not the costly, wasteful, destructive construction that we have seen on the East Side for years. When the Second Avenue subway opens in December, 2016 (if it does) the public will see how little it gets for its money – two rails, not four as in the Lexington Avenue line, and new stops only at 96th, 86th and 72nd Streets – none in the 14 blocks between 86th and 72nd Streets. Certainly, there are concerns about de Blasio’s proposal and hopefully the review process will improve it further. The light rail was plan is based on a report commissioned by a group called Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector, who can serve as a model for what non-profits could achieve.

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Does NYC Support Democracy?

Manhattanites who vote are still scratching their heads over this last ridiculous “election” in which six Democrats ran unopposed for six judicial positions. As a poll worker, from 6 a.m. to 9:42 p.m. on Nov. 3 I wallowed in the spectacle of seeing voters come to terms with the fact that they were participating in a sham. They had no say in whether or not nominees would take office. In effect, in full view, the fix was in. This raises the oft-asked question of whether or not we should “elect” judges. Of course we seldom know anything about them in the first place, but pity the citizen who tries to learn about a potential judge. Most did not feel the need to submit their bios to a voter guide.

Do you see a choice?

Where’s the Choice?

Tuesday, when distressed citizens asked me if they had any choice at all, I pointed out their options: 1) Vote as directed. 2. Write in their own candidates. 3. Scan the ballot without marking it.

Three of some 100 voters in my district told me to void their ballots because they saw no point to any of it. There were other reactions to the situation as well. Two sets of parents audibly exhaled and proceeded to “privacy booths” to mark their ballots with their kids. (One is led to wonder about the value of secret ballots when the only choice a voter has is whether or not to participate.) Several who identified themselves as Republicans studied the sample ballot taped to the wall, mumbled about Donald Trump, and stole out into the night. I rejoice that New Yorkers generally support the principles of the Democratic party, but I am concerned that extremists and Know Nothings are hounding moderates from the  party of Eisenhower. Couldn’t Manhattan Republicans manage to nominate even one judge?

In some parts of the city, notably Republican Staten Island where a Democrat became District Attorney, real elections did take place. Thus some of the estimated $13 million dollars the Board of Elections pays citywide to hold an election was well-spent. As for myself,  I am left with pressing questions. Why did I not think to write in Joseph F. Crater and William M. Tweed? Who are the fools – the ones who turn out to cast a ballot or the ones who stay home? Finally, what can we do now that a great big democracy serves so few? Please comment in the box below.

Summer in the City 2015

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It’s all over but the heat and humidity. Labor Day effectively ends summer, but memories of pleasant NYC surprises remain, such as people dressed in white gowns and tutus en route to Diner en Blanc, most lugging tables and chairs. I came upon them with a French friend who thought it was very New York until we discovered that the whole thing originated in Paris

Clearly something is going on

Clearly something is happening…

Is NYC really this clean?

Is NYC really this clean?

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Then there is St. Paul’s Chapel, a reminder of the world’s good wishes for New York and the USA after 9/11 and all the missed opportunities since..

Letters, Drawing and Paper Cranes to the People of NYC from Around the World

Letters, Drawing and Paper Cranes to the People of NYC from Around the World

…plus the amazement of finding farmers among the tourists in Rockefeller Center. The ice rink is so 20th century.

Take that, Union Square!!

Take that, Union Square!!

Chic West 29th Street with the Ace Hotel and Yaohlee’s boutique becomes the site of Friday worship when the mosque is full:

The call to prayer was heard

The call to prayer is heard

The greatness of the city is seen in simple things:Summer (2)

Most amazing of all, the vendor would not let me pay him for using his stand as a photo op!

Read This Book!!

Since the days of former president Paul LeClerc, the trustees of the New York Public Library have done everything in their robber baron powers to sell off or compromise the value of the institution as a research library open to those who would use it for serious purposes. At one point the current NYPL president Anthony Marx said that their aim was to make the institution more democratic, but unlike other high caliber research libraries, it was already a temple of democracy open to anyone from anywhere who wished to read, to research, to learn, to create. Two examples are a housewife and writer who used its collections to turn out The Feminine Mystique, and a journalist who produced The Power Broker, an exposé of development run amok. Maybe those are the kinds of users and truth-bearers the trustees decided to squash or hamper in favor of encouraging noisy tourists who disrupt those using the library’s materials.

Trustees also used the library’s finances as a rationale, but they undercut their own argument when they hatched, in off-the-record sessions, a plan to pay British starchitect Sir Norman Foster $9 million for a design scheme that would have gutted the structure of the building, including the steel stacks holding books. Sir Norman’s plan did result in its research collection being off-loaded to a storage facility in New Jersey. Fortunately that plan failed, although the off-loaded materials have yet to be returned and bare stacks abound in public rooms. It is surely not an accident that the most influential trustees of the NYPL are real estate tycoons and financiers. They drove the sale and destruction of the much-used East 50s branch, the Donnell Library, at a fire sale price of $59 million. After the branch was demolished, a penthouse in the tower being constructed on the site sold for $60 million. How clueless can these trustees really be and who are they serving?

In much-more measured prose than demonstrated in the above paragraphs, Scott Sherman uncovered this story for The Nation. His spare and elegant book Patience and Fortitude Power Real Estate and the Fight to Save A Public Library would be the rewarding experience of an evening’s reading if one could concentrate on the fact that the Foster/Central Library Plan was quashed when Mayor Bill de Blasio declined to fund it. However, the trustees involved are still active. Equally important, the book is revelatory of the capture of the boards of nearly every civic organization in the city by financial and real estate profiteers who know only cronyism and financial gain and are capable of nothing else. Happily, Sherman portrays many interesting and constructive New Yorkers in Patience and Fortitude. These labor tirelessly in the light for public good and not in closed session. One pivotal player in the defeat of the Central Library plan was a young member of the state assembly named Micah Kellner who chaired the Assembly’s library committee and was also running for New York City Council. In late June, 2013 he held an 8-hour public hearing that inspired a closer look at the plan. It galvanized and unified its opponents and led to lawsuits by distinguished scholars. A month after the hearing, Kellner’s career was effectively destroyed. The N.Y. Times reported that four years earlier a junior staff member had charged Kellner with verbal sexual harassment. Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver (his own troubles surfacing) claimed that he had only just learned of the 2009 episode and a similar alleged incident that had occurred in 2011. Kellner, who is openly bi-sexual as well as a husband and father, lost his bid for the City Council. Sexual harassment, especially if it is actually proven, is indefensible, but the timing of the career-killing charges is interesting. Power is not power unless it is exercised. But perhaps there are Higher Powers. A few weeks after the Central Library Plan was abandoned in May 2014, a section of the Rose Reading Room ceiling collapsed. Normal wear to the steel trusses that supported it was blamed. Repairs continue and the huge expanse is still shuttered. But what greater, un-doable damage might have been done if the trustees had been allowed to rip out the steel trusses altogether? How many oligarch-ready condos might have been built like the ones that are going up where the popular, democratic Donnell Library once stood? It’s too late for patience. Now urgency and fortitude are called for, along with Distrust of trustees. What do you think? Please comment in the box below.

Learning to Step On Tolerant Toes

At last New Yorkers have reason to be happy that the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s courtesy campaign has been a total failure. It’s a sign that riders don’t pay attention to notices on subways and busses! This makes me feel better about the U.S. District Court judge who would allow the pro-Israel American Freedom Defense Initiative to run an ad featuring a menacing Arab and the words “Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah.” [See AFDI photo featuring a non-menacing American] The ad attributes this to Hamas TV and adds this line below the quote: “That’s his Jihad. What’s yours?”

The AFDI wanted to run this message in the NYC transit system last year, but the MTA rejected it saying it could be a call to violence again Jews. The AFDI sued and won Tuesday in the U.S. District Court. Today the MTA tried to blunt the ruling by sending a letter to the judge saying that at its April 29 meeting the MTA board will establish a new policy to ban ads of a political nature. The MTA also has 30 days to appeal the decision through the courts.

Judge John G. Koeltl of the U.S. District Court sided with the AFDI based in part on the lack of evidence that similar ads in Chicago and San Francisco had ill effect. He also noted, “The defendants underestimate the tolerant quality of New Yorkers and overestimate the political impact of these fleeting advertisements.”

Who Say's it's A Sharing Economy?

Pole Hog Under “Don’t Be A Pole Hog” message

Well, okay. We could also call New Yorkers “tolerant” rather than “dangerously self-absorbed” when they ignore the following notices that are part of the MTA courtesy campaign: “Step Aside to Let Others Off First.” “Don’t Be a Poll Hog.” “Keep the Doors Clear So Others Can Board.” Riders of all races, colors, creeds and nationalities feel free to block subway doors and restrict entry to other riders whether a car is empty or has relative extra room at rush hour. We could be helping each other, but we don’t.

This behavior comes at a time when ridership is the greatest it has been in 65 years and crowding is a serious problem. I would like to believe that it is tourists who are behaving in such piggish ways, but they seem to find bad behavior part of the show. In any event, if the AFDI does get to run its ad, tourists will have more to see. Not so New Yorkers who will be too tolerant to take much notice, according to the judge. Would they clear the doorway if a police officer asked them to? Would it be helpful to find out? Please scroll down to the “Leave a reply” box and comment.

Update: On Monday April 27 the MTA board voted 7 to 2 in favor of banning political and other controversial ads. A WSJ story notes that government agencies that restrict ad to commercial content generally prevail when challenged in the court. Hooray (for once) for the MTA!

Subway Art Made and Found

Riders of New York City subway are likely to have their eyes glued to mobile devices these days, but those who look around, especially when they transfer, often see mosaics, sculpture and stained glass by established and emerging artists. This is well documented in a new book New York’s Underground Art Museum that features one hundred images displayed throughout the boroughs.

The Times Square station presents two distinguished murals — a glass mosaic by Jacob Lawrence and one nearby in porcelain enamel by Roy Lichtenstein.

Lichtenstein Mural, Times Square subway station

Photo by Rob Wilson for the MTA

But beauty with a nod to abstract expressionism, occurs as commercial images wear away. Please scroll down to the “Leave a reply” box and comment.

Photos by Kathleen Brady

Photos by Kathleen Brady

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Who are Patrick Lynch’s Real New Yorkers?

As president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Patrick J. Lynch may be obligated to stand up for every union member who commits a questionable act, even an indefensible one. However, his actions and tone are those of thug, of someone more like a semi-literate television Mafia capo rather than a responsible police officer. Lynch has created, or highlighted, a fissure that exists between an insubordinate, armed police force and the people of New York City, a large number of whom took to the streets in December to protest police treatment of minorities. Why has the media styled growing questions about a pattern of police conduct as an issue between Lynch’s rank and file and the mayor? Possibly because Lynch has spun it that way. Mayor Bill de Blasio owes “New York’s Finest” no apology for voicing concern about dubious actions by some officers – one of whom used a banned chokehold that killed Eric Garner and another who opened the door to a public housing stairwell with the use of a loaded and drawn gun, thereby killing Akai Gurley. The mayor owes no apology for drawing a distinction between officers who serve the public trust and those whose actions invite scrutiny. In every his pronouncement de Blasio has indicated that he does “have the back” of a responsible police force, despite the disrespect of those who literally have turned their backs on him at recent public events, including funerals of assassinated officers. Nonetheless, some contrition is due: Lynch owes an apology to New Yorkers for a work slowdown that has cost the city as much as $10 million per week, according to the Citizen’s Budget Commission, which bases the figure on a drop in the issuance of parking tickets. The N.Y. Daily News reports that Lynch has told his members to go back to doing half of their former workload.  Meanwhile, with all this going on, Lynch through the PBA website and in newspaper ads thanks “real New Yorkers” for not believing that their insubordination has anything to do with labor negotiations and for “holding accountable” those who stir up hatred and violence against police officers.  The question is what kind of people does Lynch regard as “real New Yorkers” because sadly, almost half of his members, notably the white ones, don’t qualify. Some 40 percent are suburban and exurbanites, according to data from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Census Bureau. That is a smaller percentage than those other large U.S. cities, but the numbers provoke even more thought when they are examined along racial lines. While 77 percent of black officers live in the five boroughs and 76 percent of Hispanic ones do, only 45 percent of white officers are “real New Yorkers,” if being a “real New Yorker” means residing here and paying city taxes. Minority police officers are more likely than their white colleagues to be willing to live among the people they serve and, apparently, be comfortable with us and raise their families alongside ours. When it comes to living here, can we say that New York City police officers are turning their backs? If minority cops can find a way to afford living here, why can’t – or won’t — white ones? Could moving out of the boroughs be the most questionable act of all? Please scroll down to the “Leave a reply” box and comment.

On the Last Days of Christmas This Is What to See

Some 361 days remain until Christmas 2015, but for those who want to enjoy 2014 holiday windows and displays in New York City, the time grows very short. Here’s a quick list of must-sees, with few spoilers about store themes and no images included. These sights have to be experienced first hand. 1. Macy’s at Herald Square – these are light-years beyond even the fine designs of recent years 2. Bergdorf Goodman – a salute to the arts with an especially textured tribute to Literature 3. Lord & Taylor — an enthralling contact with the enchantment of books. How wonderful to see two great retailers celebrate the pleasure of reading. One humbug to L&T: for years I have been looking for Asian and black revelers, fairies and elves among the tiny white faces so that your imaginative displays reflect all the skin tones of New York. I recall one figure in an Afro last year, but give us more! 4. Tiffany & Co. – crisp and relatively simple tableaux celebrate urban moments while setting off the store’s diamonds and gold. These clear the visual palate after the ebullience of other store windows, even as the building itself is lit up as the best present ever 5. Saks Fifth Avenue – a New York tweak to the fairy tales of the ages. Could you enjoy an apple purchased from the hands of an evil stepmother at a food cart? 5. American Museum of Natural History – best origami tree ever! Salute the topiary dinosaurs on Central Park West then head to the 77th Street entrance where folded paper magic awaits. Spirit of Christmas Past (2012): American Museum of Natural History 2012

Looking for Hope, Even If It Kills Us

Four encouraging things have come out of the unrest resulting from a Staten Island grand jury’s failure to indict the policeman who killed Eric Garner. Garner, who was apparently selling illegal loose cigarettes, was subdued with a banned chokehold after he was surrounded by three policemen, each of whom was almost as big as he was. The grand jury’s decision deprived prosecutors of the opportunity to present facts in court, including those that might have explained the policeman’s action. Nonetheless, here are the emerging good things, one for each week in this season of Advent:

  1. For those who doubt that black and white men are not treated equally under the law, Jim Dwyer, columnist for the N.Y. Times, provided clear if appalling evidence when he detailed the wildly different ways that police dealt with two graduate students at the Union Theological Seminary after they were arrested for blocking traffic.

  2. White people in meaningful numbers are marching with the black community to demand respect for black lives, including those individuals who are suspected of criminal behavior. On the night protests began, I encountered a rolling protest on West 47th Street. Seeing that nearly all the protesters in front of me were white, I burst into tears. It took a few days for me to understand why since the full range of ethnicities I knew was appalled about the lack of indictments in Ferguson, Missouri and certainly about what seems to be a clearer case in Staten Island. Turns out, I was touched by the sight of a huge diverse group of people finally making demands to show that we are one society and that injustice to one group (be it physical or economic) is an attack on everyone.

  3. While some three hundred demonstrators have been arrested, the NYC police have been more focused on maintaining order than in threatening and punishing protestors. At a breakfast of business leaders a few weeks ago, Police Chief Bill Bratton acknowledged that the approach was “hands off” in part to save police time and to avoid paying compensation for over-reacting, as occurred during the Bloomberg Administration. He explained that the city is paying out some $18 million in claims from the 2004 Republican National Convention and the Occupy Wall Street three years ago. In addition, police time is spent in giving depositions about the mass arrests that occurred.

  4. Citizens who might have needed a reminder have been forced to recognize what the police have to deal with every day thanks to self-righteous protestors who attacked officers on the Brooklyn Bridge. The attackers who broke the law had the good luck not to kill anyone, making them more fortunate than Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who surely did not mean to kill the asthmatic Garner with a chokehold. As it is, both he and Garner have entered the history of the civil rights movement, on different sides certainly. Is it too much to hope that their horrific encounter will be a turning point in New York City and throughout the country? Please scroll down to the “Leave a reply” box and comment.

The Trouble with Noerdlinger

About five weeks ago New York City’s First Lady Chirline McCray sent a mass email inviting recipients to be an “UpStander.” Her message said in part “…all of us can be UpStanders, not bystanders, in preventing domestic violence. We can be UpStanders by teaching our kids to respect one another, by supporting victims fleeing abusive relationships, or by speaking up when we hear jokes or other statements that promote violence or victim blaming.” The missive included a link to a city website.

This crystalized why Rachel Noerdlinger should have resigned as McCray’s chief of staff as soon as details of her controversial home life became public in early October. None of the many stories about her relationship with her problematic live-in boyfriend Hassaun McFarlan indicate she was ever physically beaten. However, police records indicate that she made a very bad choice of a longtime companion for herself and for her son. McFarlan’s background includes recent arrests, inflammatory rants against the police on his Facebook page and a six-year term in prison for manslaughter.

If Chirline McCray takes it upon herself to urge women to make healthy life choices, Noerdlinger is not the person she should have by her side. So it is a good thing that the chief of staff finally took an indefinite unpaid leave of absence after her son’s arrest last weekend.

The people who should have been involved here are not McCray and Mayor Bill de Blasio but Oprah or Dr. Phil. Perhaps New York’s first couple stuck by Noerdlinger because they did not want to give in to foes like police unions who may well have fed facts to the media. Possibly the two are blindly loyal. Whatever. If Noerdlinger were the essential public relations whiz she was supposed to be she would have resigned immediately, no matter how the de Blasios protested that she must stay. She would then have been at least as loyal to them as they have so unfortunately been to her.

The background: DNA Info broke the story that McFarlan served six years for manslaughter in the 1990s. Noerdlinger lives with him and her son in Edgewater, New Jersey where in 2011, police arrested him for possession of marijuana. He had been driving her Mercedes-Benz the wrong way with Noerdlinger and an underage passenger, presumably her son, in the car. She received a violation for allowing McFarlan to drive her car without a license.

De Blasio stood by her, saying that his aides knew about McFarlan, even if she had not included information about him in information the law required her to submit to the city’s Investigation Department. The mayor said, with some righteousness, that she should not be judged by the behavior of a companion. What if the behavior endangers a minor and the public and is part of a larger pattern? Will de Blasio allow himself to learn from this? Please scroll down to the “Leave a reply” box and comment.